The Necessity of the A-bomb
The following letter was written in
October of 1995 by James Michener.
Dear Martin Allday:
I?m glad you spoke to me at the Nancy Wilson wedding about your strong
reactions to the recent re-evaluations
of the Hiroshima bomb. And I appreciate the various clippings you sent
me in your follow-up letter, I shall keep
a file of your clippings and your letter to give me support if I am
forced to speak out on the atomic bombing.
I had only a brief moment to respond to your vigorous statements, so I
wish now to state once and for all my
own reactions to the bold rewriting of history.
In the summer of 1945 I was stationed on Espiritu Santo close to a big
Army field hospital manned by a complete
stateside hospital staff from Nebraska and Colorado. I had close
relations with the doctors, so I was privy to their
thinking about the forthcoming invasion of Japan. They had been alerted
to prepare for moving onto the beaches
of Kyushu when we invaded there and they were prepared to expect vast
numbers of casualties when the Japanese
home front defense forces started their suicide attacks.
More important, I was on my own very close to an Army division that was
stationed temporarily in a swampy
wooded section on our island. They were a disheartened unit for the
Japanese had knocked them about a bit in
the action on Saipan; their assignment to our swamp was a kind of
punishment for their ineffective conduct on
Saipan. Now they were informed unofficially that they would be among
the first units to hit the beach in our
invasion of Kyhushu, and they were terrified. In long talks with me,
they said that they expected seventy or
eighty per cent casualties, and they could think of no way to avoid the
So it was with knowledge of what the doctors anticipated and what the
Army men felt was inescapable, that I
approached the days of early August, and I too became a bit shaky
because the rumor was that I might be
attached to the Army unit because of my expertise in keeping airplanes
properly fitted and in the sky. Then came
the astounding news that a bomb of a new type had been dropped on
Hiroshima, a second one on Nagasaki,
and that the Japanese emperor himself had called upon his people to
surrender peacefully and await the
Allied peace-keeping forces to land and establish the changes required
by the recent turn of events.
How did we react?
With a gigantic sigh of relief, not exultation because of our victory,
but a deep gut wrenching sighs of deliverance.
We had stared into the mouth of Armageddon and suddenly the
confrontation was no longer necessary.
We had escaped those deadly beaches of Kyushu.
I cannot recall who was the more relieved, the doctors who could
foresee the wounded and the dying, or the
G.I. grunts who would have done the dying, or the men like me who had
sensed the great tragedy that loomed.
All I know is that we said prayers of deliverance and kept our mouths
shut when arguments began as to whether
the bombs needed to be dropped or not. And I have maintained that
silence to this moment, when I wanted to
have the reactions of the men understood who had figured to be on the
first waves in.
Let's put it simply. Never once in those first days nor in the long
reconsiderations later could I possibly have
criticized Truman for having dropped that first bomb. True, I see now
that the second bomb on Nagasaki might
have been redundant and I would have been just as happy if it had not
been dropped. And I can understand how
some historians can argue that Japan might have surrendered without the
Hiroshima bomb, but the evidence from
many nations involved at that moment testify to the contrary. From my
experience on Saipan and Okinawa, when
I saw how violently the Japanese soldiers defended their caves to the
death I am satisfied that they would have
done the same on Kyushu.
Also, because I was in aviation and
could study battle reports about the effectiveness of airplane bombing,
especially with those super-deadly firebombs that ate up the oxygen
supply of a great city, I was well aware that
the deaths from the fire bombing of Tokyo in early 1945 far exceeded
the deaths of Hiroshima. So I have been
able to take refuge in the terrible, time-tested truism that war is
war, and if you are unlucky enough to become
engaged in one you better not lose it. The doctrine, cruel and
thoughtless as it may sound, governs my thought,
my evaluations and my behavior. I could never publicly turn my back on
that belief, so I have refused opportunities
to testify against the United States in the Hiroshima matter. I know
that if I went public with my views I would be
condemned and ridiculed, but I stood there on the lip of the pulsating
volcano, and I know that I was terrified at
what might happen and damned relieved when the invasion became
unnecessary. I accept the military estimates
that at least one million lives were saved and mine could have been one
Martin Allday is a Texas
attorney and World War Two veteran. Mr. Allday was wounded in action on
in 1945. In October of 1995,
James MIchener wrote Allday a letter about?Truman's decision to use
to end World War Two. MIchener
was a Pacific vet himself (as reader's of SOUTH PACIFIC well know).
Mr. Michener asked Mr. Allday
to refrain from publishing the letter until after Michener's death.
Michener died in 1997.
Part of this letter appeared
in the NIMITZ NEWS, the publication of the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific
War (located in
Fredericksburg, Texas). The
weekly newspaper in Hondo, Texas. also published the letter in 2003.?
This is a thoughtful
but provocative letter by a
gentlemen of American letters. We are grateful that Mr. Allday gave StrategyPage
permission to reproduce it in
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